As Naturopathic Doctors, an area that we excel in is balancing our patients hormones (male or female). A common misconception that women have about their menstrual cycle is that the birth control pill (BCP) is prescribed to regulate their cycle. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is important that medical professionals start referring to the birth control pill for what it is: a suppressive hormonal therapy that overrides the natural production of hormones. Also, women need to be aware that there are side effects to taking the BCP that can be life-threatening. These side effects include blood clots (which can lead to death1), breast cancer risk and depression. Less serious side effects include: headaches, dizziness, nausea, breast tenderness, break through bleeding and decreased libido. Also, the pill can deplete your nutritional status which ultimately exacerbates these side effects. The table2 below shows what nutrients are depleted by the BCP, the symptoms that occur due to nutrient deficiencies and food sources of the nutrient. With some nutrients, such as the B vitamins, Magnesium and vitamin C, supplementation will be necessary to get the number of milligrams required to restore function while you are taking the BCP. If you are using a copper IUD, it is especially important to supplement with zinc in order to offset the copper being absorbed. It is best to see an ND who can help you determine the appropriate doses for your individual needs.
|Nutrients Depleted by BCP||Symptoms and Problems||Function in body||Food sources|
|Vitamin B6||Depression, sleep and skin problems, increased cardiovascular disease risk, confusion, anxiety, fatigue||Enzyme, protein metabolism, Red blood cell production, reduces, homocysteine, nerve & muscle cells, DNA/RNA, B12 absorption, immune function||Poultry, tuna, salmon, shrimp, beef liver, lentils, soybeans, seeds, nuts, avocados, bananas, carrots, brown rice, bran, wheat germ, whole grain flour|
|Folic Acid||Anemia, immune function, fatigue, insomnia, hair, high homocysteine, cardiovascular disease, birth defects, cervical dysplasia||Mental health, infant DNA/RNA, adolescence & pregnancy, with B12 to regulate RBC production, iron function, reduce homocysteine||Supplementation, fortified grains, tomato juice, green vegetables, black-eyed peas, lentils, beans|
|Vitamin B1||Depression, irritability, edema, heart, age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, fatigue||Carbohydrate conversion, breaks down fats & protein, digestion, nervous system, skin, hair, eyes, mouth, liver, immune system||Pork, organ meats, whole grain and enriched cereals, brown rice, wheat germ, bran, Brewer’s yeast, blackstrap molasses|
|Vitamin B2||Anemia, decreased free radical protection, cataracts, poor thyroid function, fatigue, muscle weakness, elevated homocysteine, nerves||Metabolism, carbohydrate conversion, breaks down fats & protein, digestion, nervous system, skin, hair, eyes, mouth, liver||Brewer’s yeast, almonds, organ meats, whole grains, wheat germ, mushrooms, soy, dairy, eggs, green vegetables|
|Vitamin B3||Cracking, scaling skin, swollen tongue, digestive problems, diarrhea, confusion, anxiety, fatigue,||Energy, digestion, nervous system, skin, hair, eyes, liver, eliminates toxins, sex/stress hormones, improves circulation||Beets, Brewer’s yeast, meat poultry, organ meats, fish, seeds, nuts|
|Vitamin B12||Anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite/weight, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, depression, dementia, poor memory, oral soreness, increased cardiovascular risk||Healthy nerve cells, DNA/RNA, red blood cell production, iron function||Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, milk products|
|Vitamin C||Muscular and nervous irritability, muscle spasms, muscle cramps and tetany, tooth decay, periodontal disease, lowered immune system, easy bruising, poor wound healing, depression, possibly hypertension||Enzyme activation, second messenger roles (transmitting hormonal information), blood clotting, cell and cell organelle membrane function, nerve impulse transmission and muscular contraction, tone and irritability||Supplementation, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, citrus, guava, kiwi, papaya, parsley, peas, potatoes, peppers, rose hips, strawberries and tomatoes|
|Magnesium||Appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue cramps, numbness, tingling, seizures, asthma, osteoporosis, heart spasms, heart rhythm, cardiovascular problems, personality changes, PMS||involved in 300 biochemical body reactions, muscle/nerve function, heart rhythm, immune system, strong bones, regulates calcium, copper, zinc, potassium, vitamin D||Green vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, whole unprocessed grains|
|Selenium||Destruction to heart/pancreas, sore muscles, fragility of red blood cells, reduced antioxidant protection, immune system||Antioxidant, works with vitamin E (thins blood), immune function, prostaglandin production||Brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, liver, butter, cold water fish, shellfish, garlic, whole grains, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts|
|Zinc||Growth retardation, hair loss, diarrhea, impotence, eye & skin lesions, loss of appetite, taste, weight loss, would healing, weak immunity, mental lethargy||Supports enzymes, immune system, wound healing, taste/smell, DNA synthesis, normal growth & development during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence||Oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, dairy|
As you can see, there are many nutrients that become imbalanced when taking the BCP. What amazes me about this medication is that women often take it for several years, even decades, without questioning the long term effects it could be having on their health. A case in point is that I had a patient who was 49 years old, and had been taking the BCP for 20 years. She was experiencing hair loss and I suggested going off the pill. The interesting thing is after stopping the medication she never got another period! And now, 6 years later, she remains in menopause with no negative symptoms and her hair loss has stopped. I wonder how many years she took the medication unnecessarily and if she had stopped it sooner what might have happened.
I know that the BCP can and does work for many women, however, if you are using it to put a band-aid over annoying menstrual symptoms, to clear up acne, to address a heavy menstrual flow or because you don’t know what else to do, you should know that there is another more effective option to balancing your hormones. Our approach gets to the underlying causes of all of those symptoms, balancing your hormones and avoiding the dangerous side effects of medication. If you are on the birth control pill, but you aren’t sexually active, maybe now is a perfect time to take a break from unnecessary medications and allow the natural rhythm of your body to be restored.
Always remember, that once you are armed with the right information about how your body works, you can make healthy choices that work for you! I know you can do this – the science of your hormones is on your side! If you are ready to support your hormonal health, please call 587-521-3595 to schedule an appointment.
- SpectraCell Laboratories, Inc. DOC 303 & 306. 2013 – Do the Prescriptions you take deplete your nutritional status